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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Ask Mommy: How Do I Deal With Religious Parental Guilt Trips?

When I was fifteen, I travelled through Southeast Asia and the South Pacific with my parents. We spent two weeks on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Our little rental bungalow was one of about a dozen encircling a pool, where all the hotel guests gathered in the evening with dinner, drinks and sunburns.

On one such evening, out by the pool, my family met another family from Paris. The couple had a little girl, about three, who was just adorable. I took to her pretty quick and we spent all night splashing in the pool and playing peek-a-boo. The night after that it was the same thing, and after that as well. It got to the point where we’d become friends with this French family, and when we discovered they were on the same flight with us to Fiji, and headed to Plantation Island, same as us, we were pretty excited. We got to spend another two weeks with them.

It was towards the end of our stay in Fiji that Philippe, the little girl’s father, presented me with an opportunity. He said he’d spoken with his sister-in-law in Nice, France and if I wanted I could stay a summer with her, learn French and experience French culture.

I, being extraordinarily shy and anxiety-ridden, said no.

YOU GUYS. I said no.

And here I sit, twenty-four years later, having thought about that shitty decision every day since.

I can’t go back and say yes. I can’t go to Nice now and experience it as a fifteen-year-old. The ship has sailed, and boy did I hate watching it go. I have regretted this every day of my life since then, and I can promise you that regret is a powerful thing.

As atheists, you and I think there’s a pretty darned good chance that this life is all we get. We don’t have a do-over in some celestial palace bubbling over with angels. Every moment that passes is a moment we will never get back, and a moment closer to total oblivion.

Yesterday, I came across this post asking for advice in the atheism subreddit:

I’m an Indian-origin male living in the America. I was born and raised in the middle east (the Arabian gulf area) and was confined to a mainly Indian expat community growing up. I went to an Indian school, had Indian friends, my parents had only Indian friends, and they are quite religious so they exposed their kids to a heavy dose of Hinduism mixed with Hindu Nationalist sentiments (the irony isn’t lost on me that they are Hindu nationalists but live outside of India and did everything they could to get me to study, work, and live in America). I met, fell in love with, and now want to marry my Pakistani-American Christian girlfriend. We combined couldn’t give a minuscule fuck about religion and personally have zero reason to think it would come in our way as a married couple. Her parents are fine with it, my parents are not. I’m the first of about 8 generations of people in my family wanting to go outside and marry someone that’s not a Brahmin, forget about not being a Hindu (Brahmins form a sub-sect of Hinduism that’s notoriously religious and hoity-toity about lineage and culture). My mother thinks she has to hang her head in shame for the rest of her life and is threatening to retire in a remote village or take her own life out of shame. My dad is a good man and he’s torn between his wife and his son; having said that, he is quite religious and would be very, very upset if this goes through. Upset to the point of reclusiveness as well. They also believe all that see in our nationalist Indian news channels and think that ordinary Pakistani citizens are the harbingers of the world’s doom.
As much as I despise my mother’s stance and don’t like her too much as a person either, she is my mother and she loved and brought me up and I love her back for it despite everything. I can’t bring this kind of grief to my father as well. I can’t let go of this girl either for obvious reasons. I might elope. Or I might reverse the bullshit reclusiveness card I had dropped on my lap. I’m going to lose most, if not all of my extended family and I’d like to salvage what’s left of the relationships I have with my immediate family. Help me Reddit, you’re my only hope.

The first thing I thought about when I read this, was the intense regret I had for not taking an opportunity to live in France for a summer. While most of the comments on this post asked OP if he was living his life for himself or for his mother, I just couldn’t help but think about the world of regret he’s in for, for the rest of his life, if he does anything but marry the girl the way he wants to marry her.

If you find yourself in this situation, where your super religious parents are threatening you with horrible things if you stick with the person you love, you have to take the following steps to avoid living the rest of your life regretting your decisions:

  1. Reddit is right – ask yourself if you’re living for you or for your parents.

  2. Remind yourself that they will be gone one day, and you’ll still be living with every decision you made just to please them.

  3. Remember that anything your mom or dad does is their choice – they can threaten suicide or shunning, but if they follow through with it, it was their choice and not yours.

  4. Think about the fact that if you make a decision just to please someone else, you absolutely will regret it for the rest of your life.

  5. Be prepared to accept the consequences of your decisions.

Of course, most of us love our parents, and nothing is ever going to make you stop loving them, but if you find yourself in this situation, perhaps loving them from afar is best. People who guilt you into doing things you don’t want to do are not people you need in your life. They are toxic and you’ll never be free to be yourself fully until you get the fuck away from them.

Somewhere in the comments, as well, someone suggests having a child to break down his parents' walls, and I wholeheartedly disagree. You can’t bring a kid into this world to try and win your parents’ love back. That’s no reason to want a child. It’s not fair to the kid and you run the risk of resenting the child if it doesn’t successfully bring your parents around again.

Instead, you need to face the reality of the situation: your parents are assholes, and if they are unwilling to accept you for who you are, you gotta get them out of your life for good.

Tell them you’re marrying the girl you’re in love with. Tell them that they can deal with that information whichever way they wish, but that’s on them. Tell them you want them to be a part of your life, and your new wife’s life and your future children’s lives, but if they can’t do that on your terms and the threats continue, you will cut them off.

What they choose from that point forward is their choice. If they choose social status and religious belief over you, then you know they’re not the type of people who are going to bring any light to your life. You certainly know they’d be awful influences on your kids.

Live your life for you. Go after what you want. Whether you’re going to marry the love of your life, or live in a foreign country for a summer, fucking do it. If you don’t take control of your own life, before you know it, you’ll be fifty years old with long-dead parents, living a life you loathe, headed to oblivion with nothing to show for any of it.

As atheists, we have more reason than anyone to seize the day. There are no do-overs, so you’d better do it, now.

How would you respond to this person's problem? Let me know in the comments!

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